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Ban Ki-Moon Seeks Elusive Unity Deal in Cyprus February 1, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus.
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After decades of ethnic strife, political wrangling and fruitless diplomacy, the leaders of Cyprus’s divided communities planned to meet Monday with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, months before elections that could further complicate the quest for a settlement.

Mr. Ban arrived Sunday for his first visit to the Mediterranean island, which has been split in two since Turkish troops invaded in 1974 after a coup attempt by Greek Cypriots seeking union with mainland Greece. Since then, untold hours of negotiations have failed to bridge deep resentments and suspicions rooted in faith, conflict and history.

Turkey still maintains some 35,000 troops on the island and a United Nations force patrols the so-called Green Line — the division between the Turkish Cypriot north, which has declared itself to be a republic and is recognized only by Turkey, and the Greek Cypriot south, whose leaders represent the island in the European Union and internationally.

“I am under no illusion that the Cyprus problem is easy to solve or about the difficulties that you face,” Mr. Ban said when he flew into Larnaca Sunday. “At the same time, I am confident that a solution is possible and within reach.”

He is set to meet the Greek Cypriot leader, Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat. Mr. Talat faces elections next April and a strong challenge from Dervis Eroglu, who is regarded as a hardliner on the terms for any settlement.

“Reaching a mutually acceptable conclusion will require courage, flexibility and vision as well as a spirit of compromise,” Mr. Ban said.

In the latest of many attempts to reunify the island, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have been negotiating for 17 months in quest of an agreement on sharing power in some future federation.

The dispute has much wider repercussions _ it is blocking Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union and straining ties between the European Union and NATO, of which both Greece and Turkey are members.

Even if political leaders reach a settlement, a deal would require the approval of both communities in referendums. In an earlier round of settlement efforts in 2004, Greek Cypriots rejected a United Nations peace plan, while Turkish Cypriots approved it.

An effort to restart negotiations in 2006 faltered and in March 2008 the Greek and Turkish Cyprus resolved to restart talks on uniting the island, agreeing to a timeline for resuming talks and to open a pedestrian crossing on Ledra Street, a thoroughfare that traces the division of Nicosia, symbolizing the separation that has endured for almost 36 years.

Alexander Downer, a former Australian foreign minister who is the United Nations special envoy for Cyprus, said Friday the progress had been made in some areas of the negotiations.

Mr. Ban said Sunday: “I’m here to show my personal support to the Cypriot-led talks to reunify the country.” But, news reports said, there is widespread public skepticism about the prospects for a breakthrough.

Apart from the issue of power-sharing, the two sides also face issues including claims to property lost because of the invasion and division of the island, the future status of Turkish forces and adjustments to the territory over which both sides claim jurisdiction. The 1974 invasion left the island’s Turkish Cypriot minority in control of about 40 percent of the territory.

In October, Mr. Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader and president of Cyprus, gave a gloomy assessment of the prospects for ending the partition of the island and warned the European Union against appeasing Turkey in the way Germany was treated before World War II.

But on Sunday, Mr. Ban said: “This process belongs to Cyprus. Your destiny is in your hands. You have taken responsibility for finding a solution.”

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